The next 13 months will test the Indian cricket team to the maximum. India have tough overseas tours of England and Australia before they seek to retain the World Cup in the quadrennial event jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
Former India captain and member of the 1983 World Cup winning squad, Ravi Shastri said that one needs “nerves of steel” to compete in Australia. The former all-rounder who has had a fair amount of success in Australia said countering the Australian bounce will be a tough ask.
Speaking at a panel discussion about the India-Australia rivalry and how testing those conditions can be at the launch of Match Australia business networking programme for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 at the Cricket Club of India here on Wednesday evening, Shastri said his cricketing education received a boost on the Australia tours.
He said: “It is playing to win, playing hard. Because you studied in an English convent school, your English manners were pretty good. Enough of England. You wanted to get out to Australia and perform in their zone, play hard, play fair and play to win. And to do that, you have got to be hard yourself. You have got to be a performer. “One thing about Australia is they will give you enough on the cricket field. But if you can stand up to it and get the runs, there is mutual respect. This helped me a lot right through my young age. After that, when you went on to play the West Indies which had the best pace attacks, you were not intimidated. You were up for a fight.
“It is not just me speaking. You ask the young team of the 1990s that really learnt how to fight, how to compete. The Gangulys, the Dravids, the Tendulkars. It happened because of India-Australia. I will go one step ahead saying India-Pakistan is the fabric. Outside that, India-Australia is the best cricket that exists. The following India-Australia cricket has is unmatched. Forget India-Pakistan, that’s for different reasons. It goes a long way back. Outside that, India-Australia cricket is fabulous. It is because of the competition.”
Shastri, who scored his career best Test score of 206 against Australia in 1991-92 and won the Champion of Champions award for his heroics in India's successful campaign in the 1985 Benson and Hedges World Championship of Cricket, said that the rivalry between India and Australia is immense. “This is what I learnt. Six hours out there (in a day of Test cricket in Australia), no one is going to give you any freebies. You have got to earn your stripes. The biggest difference or problem Indians encountered when they went there is the pitches. And vice-versa when they come here. It is spin vs pace, low bounce and turn vs bounce, though not much lateral movement. The bounce is what you have to counter. How are going to prepare yourself for that? That is why it becomes tougher. You have to think deep inside.
“Apart from your cricketing skills, it is how strong you are mentally is important. Are you prepared to take a knock? Are you prepared to look ugly out there as a batsman because you are going to be bombarded with the short stuff? Are you prepared to go through those hard yards to go the distance? Similarly, when an Aussie comes to India, he might be beaten three times in an over. He might look like an absolute joker for the first 20 minutes when he is at the crease. But if he survives that and starts getting a little confidence in his own ability, he might convert it into a 50, 50 into a 100, and then it is a different ball altogether. So, you have to dig deep, which I found was more in Australia because it came with the conditions and with the opposition you were playing against who were far more aggressive in their mind-set than any other opposition you will see.
“West Indies might have had the best pace attack but their body language, they would come quick, do their job and go. Their bowling would do the talking. But in Australia, you had to counter that pace with the bounce. It wasn’t easy. When the ball bounces between your chest and head, you have to stand there four-five hours and face the music and still get some runs, it needs nerves of steel.”
Former Australian fast bowler, Shaun Tait, said that the Indian team in recent times were better prepared to play in Australia that the teams of the past. “I think when these guys – the Gangulys, the Dravids and the Sachins – started touring Australia more often, they are supposed to have learnt a different way of playing cricket. When I came around, the Indians were pretty tough.”
The tearaway pacer from South Australia who once clocked 161.1kmph, the second fastest delivery, said that it was difficult for Indians to produce fast bowlers because of the ground conditions here. Asked what needed to be done to get Indians to bowl fast, Tait said: “It is a difficult thing. Australians are big people in general. They always had fast bowlers that comes by size, I suppose. The other thing with the young Indians that I have noticed is that they bowl on flat wickets here and in extremely hard conditions. It is not easy for fast bowlers to bowl in India, especially for long periods of time. I was speaking with Zaheer Khan recently and he was saying how he used to bowl 150kmph in his younger days and because he had to bowl so much in these conditions, he got tired and had to rely on line and length.”